Marthese reviews The Housing Crisis by Kate McLay

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“She transformed from sullen hipster to beautiful girl”

I don’t tend to read many contemporaries but the plot in this novella sounded interesting. The Housing Crisis is set in Chicago and follows Alyssa, who’s suddenly one roommate short and Hannah, who needs to find alternative lodging soon after a break-up. Hannah is sure of her sexuality and queerness, Alyssa never questioned her sexuality.

From the very first time they meet, they click and soon move in together and thus the housing crisis for both is resolved. What isn’t resolved is the growing tension between the two. Hannah has a crush on Alyssa and this is made clear from the beginning, however, Alyssa’s feelings aren’t to be discarded.

Alyssa comes from a very conservative background. Despite this, even before meeting Hannah, Alyssa made her own choices and formed her own believes which were not always in line with her family’s. I think that this independent thinking that does not arise from co-dependency is great. I was pleasantly surprised with Alyssa’s character and behavior. She isn’t the catholic-girl-from-a-small-town that you would expect her to be. She has guts, is spunky and although she is afraid, she fights for what she wants.

Hannah has had a bad experience with being in a relationship with a ‘straight’ girl but although she thinks she should knows better, her feelings for Alyssa cannot be ignored. She is honest about her past relationship from the beginning, in fact in this novella there wasn’t drama based on misunderstandings that is often used to create tension.

In the story, there is also a trans character. This character was not there simply for tokenism but plays a key part in a plot twist that is a bit far-fetched but not unrealistic.

The only thing that I did not like in the story was the implications on sexuality. Granted, this is something that most people think but as someone that identifies on the ace spectrum, it irked me that when it was clear that Alyssa had a lack of experience in sexual history, there was the implication that she is missing out on a lot and that everyone wants sex.

Alyssa’s and Hannah’s interactions are honest, emotional and mature but still gleeful. They do not beat around the bush and although there is some tension, there is no drama.

The story was not just about their relationship but also on their work careers, they are both having break through and want success while supporting each other.

All these elements make this short story very refreshing. It’s a quick read and their relationship progress was cute and not boring.

I would recommend this to people that enjoy contemporary and romance books or wish to read a drama free (or less dramatic) story about two people in love.

Megan Casey Reviews Whacked by Josie Gordon

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Lonnie Squires has an unusual profession for a lesbian mystery protagonist; she is an Episcopal priest. As far as I know, Joan Albarella’s Nikki Barnes is the only other woman of the cloth in lesbian mystery fiction. In fact, it is unusual to find religious references at all in the genre other than casual references to “the goddess” is some of the earlier, more feminist novels. As we know, most churches have not treated the LGBT community with respect, but if you have a calling, you have a calling and the Episcopal Church has been more queer-friendly than most.

Even so, author Gordon makes is clear early that Lonnie’s “calling” had more to do with the fact that the church had a women’s soccer team than any burning bush experience. In her relatively short career as a priest, Lonnie has become known for her ability to effect reconciliation; to smooth out differences between members of the church. When her bishop promises to give her her own rectory if she will travel to Eastern Michigan to mediate between two splitting factions, she jumps at the chance. Little does she know that she will become embroiled in a murder.

Although I’m not someone who likes a lot of praying in my novels, I confess to being a fan of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown stories. I also confess to finding Whacked enjoyable and strangely satisfying. But that satisfaction didn’t come easy. I found the setup to the mystery to be clumsy and less than plausible. For one thing, Lonnie lies to the police to protect someone she has met only half an hour before. Then she breaks into the murdered man’s house (before the police think of it, mind you) and finds a clue that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Having said that, it is absolutely essential that she do these things—there is no plot without them. But if I gave real star ratings for these books, Gordon would lose a healthy part of one for forcing the plot in this way. She knows she’s doing it; when Lonnie finds the clue, she thinks to herself, why is this here? Yet its presence is never actually explained. Likewise, a sheriff’s deputy, after a casual look at the body, tells Lonnie that he was killed with a shovel and that the shovel had been taken away. But if it had been taken away, how did he know it was a shovel, especially since it turned out to be an unusual kind of shovel? This is actually a major flaw in a mystery novel because most astute readers would assume that the deputy must be the killer. And this shovel is very important to the rest of the book.

Still, I like Lonnie and disliked her partner Jamie, as I was meant to—just about everything Jamie does in the book is disrespectful to Lonnie. I liked the description of the small Eastern Michigan town, especially its Dutch traditions and odd-sounding cuisine. I liked the insider look at the old Episcopal Church, and I very much admired the way that Gordon managed to use soccer metaphors throughout the book. Such as when Lonnie is questioning one of the suspects and thinks she may be about to learn something important: “This felt like a breakaway on an open net, though I knew the defenders were right behind me and gaining.” Her use of this extended metaphor is among the best I have ever seen—and that is saying something.

Lonnie’s philosophy of reconciliation not only goes to the heart of the novel, but to the heart of our society, divided now more than ever before: “Love had great power. People could do great goodness with the love they felt, once they got past anger and fear.” I’m willing to give Whacked the benefit of it being Gordon’s first attempt and I’m looking forward to seeing whether in Toasted, the next novel in the series, my feeling is justified.

For other reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Audrey reviews Teaching the Cat to Sit by Michelle Theall

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Great title, right? It’s also literal. Poor Mittens. Michelle Theall’s memoir isn’t organized linearly, but intersperses chapters from childhood with chapters from adulthood. And as a child, she really did teach the family cat to sit. She writes poignantly of the deep loneliness that caused her to try to make the cat into something it was not, and manages somehow not to beat you over the head with maternal parallels.

Her establishing shot gives you this: a partner and a son, and iPhone contact with grandparents. Good! Also, the grandparents are due to arrive soon for the son’s baptism, which has been cancelled. Due to the priest’s sudden reconsideration of baptizing the child of gay parents. Also, the grandparents don’t know this. (Note: I use the word “gay” instead of “lesbian” because that’s what Theall uses, and she expresses dislike of the label “lesbian.”)

And then you get a snapshot of the beginning. Michelle was supposed to be Matthew; she notes that this was only the beginning of disappointing her parents. You see her as a young child in the Texas Bible Belt, learning that things she liked were inappropriate, and she herself, always, was inappropriate. Not concerned enough with femininity. Not modest. Always unacceptable and wrong. And then she was scarred by an experience that reinforced this self-perception. When she did finally begin to find herself, it was through sports, and her mother explained that not only do sports have no real value for girls in the real world, but that Theall’s ovaries would likely fall out (spoiler: they didn’t). And the rampant homophobia was so ingrained that homophobia wasn’t even a concept or a word. It was just life. Homosexuality was not a thing; it was wrong, it didn’t exist, it went against the natural order, it was against God.

Although I didn’t read this as a Christian memoir–but you could–Theall’s Catholicism, and her relationship with God, is one of the most important strands woven throughout the book. As she is fighting to have her son’s baptism rescheduled, Theall considers one of the focal points of the priest’s concern: “How do you reconcile your homosexual lifestyle with your Christian beliefs?” At that point, she thinks, she’s spent 42 years resolving that question. By then, her faith is a source of strength, not angst. (Faith. Not clergy. Faith.) Her tale of getting to that place of acceptance is powerful and filled with pain, uncertainty, lots of guilt, and some big epiphanic moments.

The religious aspect is tied in to a larger question of general identity. And this is all woven in with a third piece: Theall’s relationship with her (birth) family–particularly her mother. (In fact, separating these out makes for artificial distinctions, but is done for the sake of clarifying what you might want to keep an eye out for.) The reading group guide (included in the new paperback edition) says, “In order to be a good mother, Michelle begins to realize that she may have to be a bad daughter.” While reading this book, you will probably never be convinced that Theall feels she has any chance of being regarded as a good daughter. You will probably wonder if, now that this book has been published, Theall’s mother is still talking to her. You may cheer inwardly at the choice to publish, knowing full well what the consequences might be.

Trigger warning for sexual assault.

Jess reviews Facing the Music by Jennifer Knapp

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Despite the recent conservative controversy surrounding Vicky Beeching’s coming out, the Christian community is no stranger to revered spiritual musicians coming out. Jennifer Knapp’s memoir Facing The Music is a soul-searching, earnest examination of the Christian music scene and self discovery including her own coming out in 2010.

Knapp begins her life as a twin in a dysfunctional and divided household. As her parents were separated, she spent her youth navigating the complex conditions of custody, living predominantly with her father and step-mother and occasionally holidaying with her mother. Her first love is discovered and passionately explored as she teaches herself trumpet and becomes enamoured with music. Not being musical myself but living with a musician, I was enthralled in Knapp’s diligent and often demanding relationship with instruments. In fact, her first decision to learn an instrument comes at the direct expense of her limited time with her mum. Her passion continues as she breathes in instrument after instrument, ultimately leading her to study music teaching at college.

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After a period as a wild child, filled with sexual exploits and significant alcoholism (not explicitly explored), Knapp falls for the grace of God and begins to party Christian style; with worship music and religious conversation. Her account for her rise to Christian ‘rock-star’ status is told passively, as though everything just happened around her; her own involvement often reluctant and riddled with self-doubt. I feel this early Christian experience is written through the lens of a changed woman and wonder about the difference in explanation if one had been able to be transcribed at the time. Yet, this is how all memoirs are written; by the hands of current understanding, so I need not fault Knapp for that.

As a Christian myself, I recognised many of the evangelical experiences Knapp described and would advise non-Christian readers not to be put off by this inside look at the Contemporary Christian music scene. Her insights are often darkly described, almost in despising tones and I think Christians will have a harder time processing Knapp’s truths then non-religious individuals.

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Two thirds into Facing The Music, Knapp addresses her sexuality, her withdrawal from the Christian music scene and life as she knows it. She isn’t one to kiss and tell, so if you are hoping for long paragraphs of lesbian liaisons, this isn’t the love story for you. Instead, she recounts her internal coming out experience and the feelings associated with identifying as both gay and Christian, both personally and within the public  eye.

Knapp’s memoir is also littered with unexpected interesting insights, including her involvement with signing Katy Perry as well as adventures in outback Australia.

Personally, I strongly related to her difficulty fitting into certain circles in Christian churches, wearing cargo pants instead of skirts at church services. I also understood her difficulty with self-acceptance and the shame often associated with sharing an experience that strays from the acceptable testimony within church circles. I applaud her personal strength and faith to share her own story and to take her own time to do so.

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Facing The Music is written with honesty, integrity and emotion and will likely captivate fans, memoir readers, Christians and the questioning masses.

For those who enjoy Jennifer Knapp’s memoir, I would strongly recommend Chely Wright’s memoir Like Me, which explores coming out within the conservative country music world. You can also view the documentary Wish Me Away which follows Chely before and after coming out.

If you are looking for music to listen to while reading, Jennifer Knapp’s new album Set Me Free (released by Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records) is just out.